Bankruptcy: Understanding Reaffirmation

Bankruptcy:
Understanding
Reaffirmation
Agreements
CITY BAR JUSTICE CENTER
BANKRUPTCY: UNDERSTANDING REAFFIRMATION AGREEMENTS
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Updated July 2013
The City Bar Justice Center acknowledges
the Committee on Bankruptcy & Corporate
Reorganization of the New York City Bar
Association for their assistance in the
creation of this booklet.
The City Bar Justice Center is grateful to the
Eastern District of New York Civil Litigation
Fund for helping make this publication
possible.
©2013 The Association of the Bar
of the City of New York Fund, Inc.
All rights reserved.
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BANKRUPTCY: UNDERSTANDING REAFFIRMATION AGREEMENTS
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Bankruptcy:
Understanding
Reaffirmation
Agreements
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is a Reaffirmation Agreement
in Bankruptcy?................................................................. 2
Why Do Debtors Enter into
Reaffirmation Agreements?........................................... 3
Should You Enter into
a Reaffirmation Agreement?......................................... 4
What are the Effects of Entering into
a Reaffirmation Agreement?......................................... 7
When Can a Reaffirmation Agreement
be Entered Into?.............................................................. 8
How is a Reaffirmation Agreement Filed?.................... 9
Is an Attorney Needed to Enter into
a Reaffirmation Agreement?....................................... 10
Can a Reaffirmation Agreement be Cancelled?......... 11
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What is a Reaffirmation Agreement
in Bankruptcy?
Individuals who file for bankruptcy (“debtors”) often do so to
eliminate (“discharge”) the obligation to pay certain types of
debt and to obtain a financial “fresh start.” Not all debts are
dischargeable, but most common consumer debts are. In certain
limited circumstances, a debtor may wish to pay a particular debt
even though the debt can be discharged in bankruptcy. Bankruptcy does not prevent a debtor from volunteering to pay a debt that
would otherwise be discharged with money that is not for the
benefit of creditors as part of the “bankruptcy estate.” When a
debtor agrees to pay such a debt by contract, the debtor must
enter into a reaffirmation agreement with a creditor to “reaffirm”
the debtor’s intent to pay.
Special considerations come into play when a debtor decides to
enter into a reaffirmation agreement because the debtor will be
contractually bound to pay the otherwise discharged debt even
if, at some point during the life of the agreement, the debtor is
unable to make the payments. Congress was concerned when it
passed the Bankruptcy Code that at times debtors had been taken
advantage of when they signed these types of agreements. The
Bankruptcy Code therefore has certain procedures that apply to
protect debtors. This pamphlet explains those procedures as well
as the reasons for them.
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Why Do Debtors Enter into
Reaffirmation Agreements?
A creditor to whom a debtor owes a debt can have a “security
interest” in property of the debtor, such as an automobile or
appliance, that is being purchased by the debtor over time
through periodic payments. A security interest protects the
creditor if the debtor cannot repay the debt and may give
the creditor the right to take away and sell the property if the
required payments are not made. Bankruptcy does not make
these security interests in property go away. If the debtor would
like to keep the property, he or she may have to enter into a reaffirmation agreement with the creditor that obligates the debtor
to continue making the required payments during and after the
bankruptcy case. It is generally not advisable for a debtor to bind
himself or herself to pay an otherwise dischargeable debt unless it
is necessary to keep the property that is securing it.
The discharge is the debtor’s alone and does not affect anyone
else’s obligations. Therefore, an additional reason why some
debtors reaffirm a debt is because a co-obligor (someone who
co-signed for the debt) or guarantor (someone responsible for
the debt if the debtor defaults) may have to satisfy it even if the
debtor receives a discharge. Under those circumstances, the debtor
may choose to reaffirm, even if the debtor does not wish to keep
the property securing the debt, so the co-obligor or guarantor
does not have to pay. Before reaffirming the debt, the debtor
should fully understand the responsibilities of the co-obligor
or guarantor and should review the documents that set forth
their obligations.
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Reaffirmation agreements are strictly voluntary. A
debtor is not required to reaffirm any of his or her debts.
If a debtor signs a reaffirmation agreement, the debtor
agrees to pay a debt that otherwise might be discharged
in his or her bankruptcy case. There may be other ways
to renegotiate payments with creditors without entering
into a reaffirmation agreement. A creditor cannot compel
you to enter into a reaffirmation agreement.
Should You Enter into a
Reaffirmation Agreement?
Reaffirming a debt imposes ongoing obligations on a debtor to
make payments and may have significant financial consequences.
You should consider the following questions before entering
into a reaffirmation agreement:
• Wants vs. Needs? A debtor may want to keep property that is subject to a security interest, but does the debtor really need it? A debtor should .only reaffirm debts on things that he or she really needs. Reaffirming debts on items that are not needed may continue the financial
problems .that caused a debtor to file for bankruptcy in
the first place.
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Can the debtor replace the property that is subject to a security interest for .less money? If yes, a debtor should not reaffirm. A debtor should not enter into a
reaffirmation agreement to retain property if he or she can get adequate replacement property for less money. For example, if a replacement used car costs $5,000 at a 5% interest rate and the reaffirmation agreement would
require the debtor to pay $6,000 at a 5% interest rate or $5,000 at a 6% interest rate, then the debtor should not enter into the reaffirmation agreement.
•
Can the debtor really afford to satisfy the obligation he or she is .seeking to reaffirm? It is a mistake for a debtor to sign a reaffirmation .agreement if he or she may not be able to make the required payments. Once bound by a reaffirmation agreement, the debtor will be persoally liable for the debt. If the debtor defaults later, the creditor can obtain a judgment against the debtor personally in addition to repossessing the property securing the debt. For example, if a debtor reaffirms a car loan for $15,000 and the car securing the loan is worth $8,000, then, if the debt or defaults, the creditor may repossess the car and the debtor may still be .liable to the creditor for $7,000 (the difference between the amount of the l.oan and the value of the car at the time it is repossessed). In this situation, since the value of the car is less than the debtor would pay under the reaffirmation .agreement, the debtor is better off not reaffirming and instead purchasing a replacement car.
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• Is the debtor behind on payments? A debtor should make sure that he or she is able to catch up on missed
payments before reaffirming.
• Has the creditor offered the debtor a “new deal”
or better terms? Be careful! New credit, lower interest
and/.or better payment terms may appear enticing, but
a debtor .still may not be able to afford the ongoing
payment obligations.
• Is the creditor able to take away the debtor’s
property? If a creditor .says it can take away the debtor’s property if a debt is not repaid, then the .debtor should make sure that the creditor provides documents supporting that statement. The vast majority of reaffirmation agre-
ments are for .secured debts (such as a car loan), where
the creditor can repossess the debtor’s property, as opposed to unsecured debts (such as a credit card balance).
• Does a debtor need to enter into a reaffirmation agreement with respect .to a loan for real property, such as a mortgage on the debtor’s home, if the debtor is current on payments? The Bankruptcy Code is clear that a debtor .must enter into a reaffirmation agreement to .retain personal property, such as an
autombile or appliance, even if he or she is current on
all payments. If, however, the debtor is current on pay-
ments on a loan for real property, such as a house, then
he or she may not have to reaffirm the .debt to retain
the .property and for the loan to remain in place. Instead,
the debt may “ride through” the debtor’s bankruptcy
without .being reaffirmed. It is advisable to consult an
attorney to determine whether the “ride through”
option is available.
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• Is a co-obligor or guarantor responsible for
satisfying the debt?
If yes, then .the debtor may wish to reaffirm the debt so the co-obligor or .guarantor does not have to pay. If, however,
a debtor is a guarantor of a loan and .the borrower
(non-debtor) has the property securing it, the guarantor (debtor) should not have to reaffirm the debt for the
borrower to keep the property, as long as the borrower
is current on the payments. In any event, if the debtor
does not care whether the property is repossessed from
the .borrower, then the debtor should not sign the
reaffirmation agreement.
•
Should a debtor enter into a reaffirmation
agreement just to improve his .or her credit? No. There are other ways for a debtor to improve his or her credit, such as by paying bills on time, keeping balances low on credit .cards, and reducing the number of credit cards that a debtor has open.
What are the Effects of Entering into a
Reaffirmation Agreement?
When a debtor enters into a reaffirmation agreement, he or she
is obligated to pay the reaffirmed debt. The reaffirmed debt is
treated as if the debtor never filed for bankruptcy. As such, reaffirmation can have significant financial consequences. For example,
if a debtor reaffirms a car loan and misses a payment in the future,
the creditor may be able to repossess the car and/or sue the debtor
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for the balance of the loan. If a debtor cannot pay the reafirmed debt, he or she must wait eight years after filing
for bankruptcy before filing again to discharge the
reaffirmed debt.
Given these significant consequences, you must make
sure that you understand the terms of a reaffirmation
agreement before signing, including (1) the amount that
you will owe, (2) the timing of the payments and (3) any right
the creditor may have to take away the property if you fail to
make payment.
When Can a Reaffirmation Agreement
be Entered Into?
A reaffirmation agreement must be entered into before the granting of a discharge and filed with the clerk of the bankruptcy court
for it to be valid and binding. An executed reaffirmation agreement may be filed by any party, including the debtor or a creditor.
It must be filed within 60 days after the first date set for the first
meeting of creditors in the bankruptcy case unless the deadline
is extended by the bankruptcy court. You will receive notice of
the date set for the first meeting of creditors.
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How is a Reaffirmation Agreement Filed?
A reaffirmation agreement will be enforceable only if it complies
with specific procedures and makes certain necessary disclosures.
If you have filed for bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy
Court for the Southern District of New York, then you must follow
the Guidelines for Filing a Reaffirmation Agreement in the Southern District of New York, which may be found at http://www.nysb.
uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/4008-1-guidelines.pdf. In addition,
form documents and additional instructions are available at: http://
www.uscourts.gov/FormsAndFees/Forms/BankruptcyForms.aspx.
These documents may be updated from time to time. Updated
versions will be posted to this website.
In the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District
of New York, all reaffirmation agreements must be filed with an
Official Form 27, Reaffirmation Agreement Cover Sheet. Parties
who wish to adopt the form of reaffirmation agreement provided
by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts may use
(1) Procedural Form B240A, Reaffirmation Documents, (2)
Procedural Form B240B, Motion for Approval of Reaffirmation
Agreement and (3) Procedural Form B240C, Order on Reaffirmation
Agreement. Parties who do not wish to follow the bankruptcy
court forms and are drafting their own documents should refer
to the Guidelines for Filing a Reaffirmation Agreement in the
Southern District of New York for additional instructions.
If you have filed for bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy
Court for the Eastern District of New York, Procedural Form
B240A, Reaffirmation Documents, must be used to document
reaffirmation agreements, which may be found at http://www.
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uscourts.gov/FormsAndFees/Forms/BankruptcyForms.aspx. In
addition, all reaffirmation agreements must be filed with an
Official Form 27, Reaffirmation Agreement Cover Sheet.
If you have filed for bankruptcy in a court other than the United
States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern or Eastern Districts of
New York, please refer to that bankruptcy court’s website for
instructions and applicable forms.
Is an Attorney Needed to Enter into a
Reaffirmation Agreement?
While it is always advisable to seek the assistance of an attorney,
a debtor does not need an attorney to enter into a reaffirmation
agreement. The reaffirmation process, however, is slightly
different if a debtor is pro se (“on your own”).
If a debtor is represented by an attorney, the attorney has to
certify in writing that he or she advised the debtor of the legal
effects and consequences of the reaffirmation agreement,
including a default under the agreement. The attorney also has
to certify that the debtor made a fully informed decision to enter
into the agreement, that the debtor voluntarily decided to reaffirm the debt, and that the reaffirmed debt will not create an
undue hardship for the debtor or his or her dependents.
If a debtor is not represented by an attorney, then, after filing
the agreement with the bankruptcy court, the debtor will receive
a hearing date to appear before a judge to explain why he or she
would like to reaffirm the debt and how he or she can afford to
make payments. Except in certain limited circumstances relating to
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the reaffirmation of real property (such as a house), the judge has
to approve the reaffirmation agreement by finding that it is in the
debtor’s best interest and does not impose an undue hardship on
the debtor or his or her dependents.
Can a Reaffirmation Agreement
be Cancelled?
A reaffirmation agreement can be cancelled by a debtor by the
later of: (1) the issuance of a discharge in the bankruptcy case or
(2) 60 days from the date the reaffirmation agreement is filed with
the bankruptcy court.
As with any contract, you should think very carefully
before signing a reaffirmation agreement. Consider whether
is it worth it to bind yourself contractually to make the payments. It generally is not advisable to sign a reaffirmation
agreement if you can purchase replacement property for
less than the cost of keeping your property under the
reaffirmation agreement.
Since entering into a reaffirmation agreement may have
significant financial consequences, you should be certain
that you fully understand the terms and ramifications of
the agreement before signing. Only by making an informed
decision will your interests be protected.
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APPENDIX: WHERE TO GO FOR HELP
OR FURTHER INFORMATION
Legal Assistance:
•
Consumer Bankruptcy Project of the City Bar
Justice Center: .The Pro Bono Consumer Bankruptcy Project, with the assistance of volunteer attorneys, advises low-income* New Yorkers who are considering filing for Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy and assists with the preparation of bankruptcy petitions and schedules. All clients file and appear pro se.
This Project does not handle reaffirmation agreements for debtors already in bankruptcy.
*Those with incomes at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines based on their family size.
Contact: City Bar Justice Center, Legal Hotline,
Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
(212) 626-7383. Website: www.citybarjusticecenter.org.
•
New York City Bankruptcy Assistance Project of Legal Services for New York City (“NYC BAP”): The NYC BAP assists low-in come* New York City debtors prepare and file pro se Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions in the bankruptcy courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts. This Project does not handle reaffirmation agreements for debtors already in bankruptcy.
*Those with incomes at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines based on their family size.
Contact: LSNY, (646) 442-3630 (leave a message and a staff member will return your call within 48 hours).
Website: www.lsny.org (NYC Bankruptcy Assistance Project).
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•
Legal Referral Service of the New York City Bar (“LRS”): New Yorkers who need referral to a lawyer in private practice for representation on a bankruptcy matter can call the Legal Referral Service. Callers are screened by Referral Counselors, who are lawyers or paralegals trained to help evaluate the various options and who can recommend appropriate legal help. The LRS can make referrals to lawyers in private practice that can provide bankruptcy assistance for a fee.
Contact: Legal Referral Service, LRS Hotline, Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 P.M. (212) 626-7373(English) or
(212) 626-7374 (Spanish). Website: http://www.abcny.org/
get-legal-help/legal-referral-service or www.ilawyer.org.
Other Bankruptcy Assistance:
•
Eastern District Bankruptcy Court Pro Se Law Clerk: If you do not have a lawyer, and you are involved in a consumer bankruptcy case in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York, you may get information about the
bankruptcy process and bankruptcy filing requirements from the Bankruptcy Court Pro Se Law Clerk’s Office. Staff may
answer questions about the bankruptcy forms, schedules, and process, but cannot prepare your petitions or forms for you or give legal advice. Schedule: Mondays through Fridays, 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM. Location: Brooklyn: Clerk’s Office (First Floor) 347-394-1700, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York, 271 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn 11201. Central Islip: Long Island Federal Court House, 290 Federal Plaza, Central Islip, NY 11722 (available on
Wednesday 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M.). Telephone: (631-712-6200)
– Continued on the back
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Bankruptcy Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts
of New York:
•
The Southern District services the counties of Bronx,
Manhattan, Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess, Orange and Sullivan. The website address for the Southern District of New York bankruptcy courts is www.nysb.uscourts.gov. If you live in Manhattan or the Bronx, you may file at any of the
following Southern District of New York bankruptcy court
locations, but your case will be assigned to the Bowling Green courthouse, which is located in Manhattan:
– 1 Bowling Green, New York, NY 10004.
Telephone: (212) 668-2870
– 300 Quarropas Street, White Plains, NY 10601.
Telephone: (914)-390-4229
– 355 Main Street, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601.
Telephone: (845) 451-6362
• The Eastern District services the counties of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau and Suffolk. The website address for
the .Bankruptcy Courts of the Eastern District of New York is
www.nyeb.uscourts.gov. If you live in Brooklyn, Queens or Staten Island, you may file at any of the following Eastern
District of New York bankruptcy court locations, but your
case .will be assigned to the Cadman Plaza courthouse, which
is located in Brooklyn:
– Conrad B. Duberstein U.S. Courthouse, 271-C Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, NY 11201. Telephone: (347) 394-1700
– Alfonse M. D’Amato U.S. Courthouse, 290 Federal Plaza, Central Islip, NY 11722. Telephone: (631) 712-6200
42 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036 • www.citybarjusticecenter.org
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